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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… Confirmation: A Spiritual Coming Of Age

January 14, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 11

In previous lessons, we have learned that out of the seven sacraments instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, three of them can be received only once in life, namely, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. This is so because they imprint a “character,” that is, a spiritual, indelible mark that lasts forever, and, therefore, cannot be repeated.
Confirmation is, as it were, a spiritual coming of age. As we can come of age physically but once, so we can come of age spiritually but once. The baptismal character marks us as a disciple (follower) of Christ, while the character given in Confirmation enrolls us as an apostle (missionary) of Christ, fully equipped for promotion of the apostolate.
This is a most important aspect of receiving Confirmation, which is very often left out in the formation classes given in parishes: The person being confirmed becomes a Soldier of Christ, and must be trained for the combat in defense of His Law and His Love, in the Holy Church He founded. One must be in the state of grace to receive it, because it is a sacrament of the living, not of the spiritually dead like Baptism and Confession.
Those who are so unfortunate as to receive the great Sacrament of Confirmation in a state of mortal sin commit a sacrilege, but they may, by due repentance and Confession, obtain the precious gifts of grace it conveys. The sacramental character is already present, and will operate upon repentance.
You may ask: “But is Confirmation necessary for salvation?” Although Confirmation is not a necessary means for salvation, still the Church teaches that “the faithful are bound by obligation to receive this sacrament at the proper time.”
We are not obliged to eat nutritious food all the time, as we sometimes indulge in junk food, but it would be for our benefit to eat good food all the time, instead of junk. It is likewise with Confirmation. We are not obliged to receive it, but it would be a foolish thing to do not to receive it, to put it bluntly. By receiving it we have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.
Hence, no one should refuse Confirmation or unduly postpone it. So much depends on our receiving it worthily that we should exercise the greatest care in our preparation for it, making our best efforts to acquire knowledge of the doctrine and to put ourselves in the proper disposition by Confession and Holy Communion.
That is why parishes must work hard and with great care to prepare the teenagers who are going to receive the sacrament.
That was how the apostles prepared themselves to receive the Holy Spirit: When they were awaiting His descent at Pentecost, for many days they “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). For each of us our Confirmation is our Pentecost, and it comes but once. Confirmation is obligatory for anyone preparing for Ordination to the priesthood, and highly desirable for a man and a woman who are going to be married.
So, one could say that it was on Pentecost Day that the Church instituted the Sacrament of Confirmation, right? The answer is simple, and you Wanderer readers ought to know it by now: No, it was not. The Church never instituted the Sacrament of Confirmation, as it was instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, just like the other sacraments.
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church, in the exercise of her infallible authority, declared the institution of the Sacrament of Confirmation by Christ to be a doctrine given to her by God Himself, transmitted by the apostolic fathers and bishops of the early Church. This proof alone suffices for us Catholics. The Church, says St. Paul, is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
But we may add a couple of other proofs for fuller instruction, taken from Sacred Scripture.
1) Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit on His apostles (Acts 1:8) was fulfilled at the first Pentecost.
2) But this ineffable gift was not intended for the apostles alone: It was intended for all the faithful as well. Remember how in the Acts of the Apostles, immediately after having received the Holy Spirit, St. Peter addressed the multitude and said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to Him” (Acts 2:38-39).

The Rite

3) The apostles communicated this gift to the people by a rite distinct from Baptism: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17).
Let us break down this passage to emphasize the more relevant parts.
This passage shows that:
a) The apostles conferred the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands and by prayer, that is, by a visible rite; they did not confer the Holy Spirit on the people by means of their personal prayer alone. There was a rite to be observed, namely, the laying on of hands and a prayer, the form of the sacrament.
b) The rite was distinct from Baptism, as the people of Samaria had already been baptized by the Deacon Philip; Confirmation was added to them.
c) The same arguments may be adduced from Acts 19:5-6: “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.”
d) The administration of Confirmation was reserved to the apostles, who were the first bishops. If the Deacon Philip could have administered it to the Samaritans, Peter and John would not have risked going to Samaria unnecessarily, in a time of persecution at the peril of their lives.
e) That the rite must have been instituted by Christ Himself is evident, for it is only He who could have endowed it with its grace-giving power. The apostles did not have that power, only God does.
4) The rite consisted in prayer and the laying on of hands. Very early on, anointing also was made part of the rite.
5) The only rite in our days that can claim identity with the rite administered by the apostles is our rite of Confirmation. If our Confirmation were not the same as the “laying on of hands” of the apostles, the absurd conclusion would be that the Church of Christ abandoned a rite instituted by Christ and administered by the apostles. But this cannot happen, because He promised that He would be with His Church till the end of time.
Next article: Confirmation — final installment.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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